POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Alternative Vote

The alternative vote (also known as AV and instant run-off voting) is a preferential voting system under which voters rank candidates in order of preference.

Each voter places a '1' next to their first choice of candidate, a '2' next to their second choice, and so on, until they no longer wish to express any further preferences or run out of candidates.

Candidates are elected directly if they gain more than 50 percent of first preference votes. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first preference votes, the candidate with the least first preference votes is eliminated and those votes are redistributed to the second preference marked on each ballot paper. This process continues until one candidate has more than half of the votes and therefore becomes elected. Proponents of the alternative vote system argue that it invests greater democratic legitimacy in elected candidates because they are supported, at least to some degree, by a majority of voters within their constituency.

General elections in the UK are conducted using the first past the post system, however in 2010 a referendum was held in order to decide whether the alternative vote system should replace it. A decisive majority of 68% voted against adopting the alternative vote system. 

See also: First Past the Post, Supplementary Vote, Proportional Vote, Majority Vote , Direct Elections, List Elections

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